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Passive Session Hijacking: Definition and Examples

Last Updated: October 17, 2023

What is Passive Session Hijacking?

Passive session hijacking is a type of cyberattack where an attacker intercepts and collects data transmitted over a network during a user's login or session establishment process without actively engaging with the user or attempting to steal their session directly. Instead of directly targeting the session, passive session hijacking focuses on capturing sensitive information, such as login credentials, that can later be used for unauthorized access.

Examples of Passive Session Hijacking

  1. Packet Sniffing: Attackers can use network sniffing tools or techniques to capture packets of data as they traverse the network. This data can include login credentials transmitted in plain text or insufficiently protected forms. For example, if a website sends login credentials over an unencrypted HTTP connection, an attacker with access to the network traffic can easily intercept and collect these credentials.

  2. Man-in-the-Middle (MitM) Attacks: In a passive MitM attack, the attacker secretly intercepts communication between the user and the server. While the user logs in, the attacker captures the data packets containing login information. The attacker does not disrupt the user's session but collects valuable data in the process.

  3. Data Mining and Analysis: After collecting the intercepted data packets, the attacker can perform data mining and analysis to extract login credentials, such as usernames and passwords. They can then use these credentials to log in as the user at a later time, potentially gaining unauthorized access to the user's accounts.

  4. Wireless Eavesdropping: In scenarios where users connect to Wi-Fi networks in public places or use insecure Wi-Fi connections, attackers can leverage wireless eavesdropping techniques to passively intercept login data. This can occur in public places like coffee shops or airports, where Wi-Fi networks may not be adequately secured.

  5. Session Identifier Theft: While not as active as traditional session hijacking, attackers may still capture session identifiers (e.g., session cookies) transmitted over an insecure connection. Although this doesn't directly compromise the user's active session, it can lead to session hijacking at a later time when the attacker decides to use the stolen session identifier.

How to Protect Against Active Session Hijacking

To protect against passive session hijacking, it is crucial to use secure communication protocols, such as HTTPS, for transmitting sensitive data like login credentials. Additionally, implementing encryption and strong authentication mechanisms can help safeguard user data from interception by passive attackers. Users should be cautious when connecting to public Wi-Fi networks and use virtual private networks (VPNs) for added security when accessing sensitive information over untrusted networks.

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